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  • Physical Evidence
  • Kelly Grey Carlisle (bio)

The room into which the attendant has led me is dim, made more so when he pulls the thick shade across the only window. He threads the spool of microfilm into the viewer, turns the machine on, and shows me how to work the controls: forward, backward, focus, zoom. He doesn't talk much, eager, I think, to return to his computer game. I'm glad he hasn't asked me what I'm looking for in these old newspaper reels, but part of me wants to tell him. I'm afraid of what I might find, and I don't want to search on my own. The attendant leaves, and I am left alone with the sound of the machine, the hum of its fan, the clunk and whir of the film as I advance it. Two weeks worth of the Los Angeles Times blur in front of me, the motion making me slightly queasy, until I reach November 29, 1976, three weeks after I was born. I read through headlines, glance at ads for J. C. Penney's Thanksgiving Sale, Safeway's holiday specials. And I laugh a little because not much has changed in all that time: Donald Rumsfeld is still secretary of defense, and depending on whom you ask, Elvis is still alive. What I'm looking for isn't in the big headlines or the ads, so I go back to the front page and read through the smaller items—articles about Amy Carter's high school, a robbery in Fullerton, a blind drum major—but I can't find it. I read on to the next day, and then the next, but still there is nothing. Pretty soon I reach the end of the film: a blank screen and the jarring clack, clack of the tape flapping on its spool.

On November 28, 1976, my mother, Michele Grey, was beaten and strangled, her body abandoned in an empty lot near downtown Los Angeles, about a half mile away from the Los Angeles Times headquarters. Her death didn't make the paper. [End Page 19]

When I was a little girl, this is the story they told me:

My parents were killed in a car accident when I was three weeks old. My grandmother Spence was half Hawaiian, and that made me special. I lived with her until I was four, when she died, but now she was in heaven watching over me. Her father was full-blooded Hawaiian and a cliff diver, and that was why I liked to swim so much. My grandfather was English and a descendent of the Earl Grey of tea fame, and also of Lady Jane Grey, and somewhere in England our family had a house named Fallodon. And that made me special, too. I had blue blood and Hawaiian blood, and I was going to grow up to be the most beautiful girl in the world, and who knew, maybe I'd become a princess. Sometimes I still let myself believe these things.

I was raised by my grandfather and his second wife, Marilyn. Before I knew the truth about her death I wanted to know everything about my mother, Michele. What did she look like? What was her favorite color? I wanted to know if my mother had curly hair or straight, whether she was tall or thin. Did she like cats or dogs better? Was she pretty? Did she like ice cream? Could she draw well? My grandfather could never really answer my questions. He hemmed and hawed and changed the subject.

I wanted to see a picture of my mother, but all my grandfather had to show me was a snapshot of the back of a little girl who was petting a cat and another one of her blowing out candles on her birthday cake. I couldn't see her face in those pictures, her back was always turned towards the camera. The little girl had red hair, and in both pictures she had on the same dress. I counted the candles on her cake and there were eight of them. I'd always thought of Michele as a...


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pp. 19-26
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